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Fear of How We’re Perceived


I once worked for the “call before you dig” company in my state of Virginia.  I was one of two or three people that would answer calls in Spanish and write up a “ticket” for those who needed to dig somewhere, be it for gardening or a new commercial building.  We realized over time that the laws about digging safely in Virginia were not being effectively communicated to the Spanish speaking community.  This was noted as a major problem because of the large number of construction/landscaping work that is done by Spanish speakers in Virginia.  Employers would risk going out of business as of a result of large fines and people would get hurt as a result of unsafe excavation.  So I was invited by the State Corporate Commission to travel to Northern Virginia and give an educational talk to about 100 Spanish speaking contractors.  We hoped these men would get the info they needed and spread the knowledge to their employees. 

At first, my big worry was my stage fright and the fact that I have never spoken much Spanish.  It’s generally embarrassing to have been born in South America and not have a solid grasp of my first language.  Anyway, once I translated the power point presentation, It suddenly hit me.  I’d have to manage my diabetes in a room full of Hispanic men while dealing with major nerves!  Honestly, it was quite intimidating.  I love speaking in front of a crowd but I get terribly nervous.  Sick to my stomach and dizzy and sweating nervous.  This always affects my blood sugars, too. 

I prepared the best I could and luckily, wasn’t going alone.  A friend and coworker whom I had been teaching Spanish to, managed to pick up a lot very quickly and would be going with me to help out.  The night before the presentation however, my boss and my coworker friend and I went out for ice cream.  Conveniently so, my insulin pump, which I was on at the time, decided to start beeping and reported back: “no delivery”.  I wasn’t getting any insulin and had already ate half of my enormous ice cream.  We headed back to the hotel and I ran up to my room to change my site and give insulin.  My blood sugar rose over the next 3 hours.  Eventually, I gave an insulin shot and took out my infusion site once again.  The second bent cannula of the night.  Great.  My blood sugar was around 400 and I worried I wouldn’t be good to go in the morning.  I had also just used my last infusion set so there was that worry.  Luckily, around midnight my blood sugar started stabilizing and I was able to go to sleep by 1:30am. 

The next morning my blood sugar was fine but I felt dehydrated and tired from the night before.  I had only slept five hours.  I was moody.  All I could think of was, “As if it wasn’t bad enough that I’m nervous talking in front of others and lack ease in using technical excavation terms in Spanish, I have to worry about my blood sugars, too!”  I took a few deep breathes and decided to have breakfast.  I was already shaky from being nervous, I didn’t want to be trembling from hunger, as well.  I didn’t eat much but what I did eat was carbohydrate loaded.  Right before the presentation was to start, I stood in a room full of contractors, many of whom were looking at their watches.  They wanted it over with, they had work to get to.  And what was I doing?  Going over what I was going to say?  No, I was sipping a juice box to fix a low.  Why did this bother me?  Because ever since I was 6 years old, when the teacher asked for a strong young man to help her carry books, I raised my hand really high in defiance because “Girls are strong, too!”.  I don’t know why but I’ve spent my whole life making it a point to prove that women are as capable as men.  So I just didn’t want to come off as precious or vulnerable, drinking juice from a juice box, speaking Spanish in an English accent to a crowd that intimidated me.  I wanted them to take what I had to say seriously, because it was serious.  I had just got done translating for some contractors who got in trouble (meaning they paid HUGE fines) for not abiding excavation laws and they made “little women” jokes in front of me.  While I was translating for them.  I suppose that experience kind of traumatized me and I was not going to have that happen again.

So I finished my juice, threw it in the trash, got out my meter and tested in front of everyone.  I wasn’t planning to but, I needed to tell myself to be confident and this was a way to force that upon myself.  By one simple and blatant act.  One man saw me and said to the man next to him, (and I’m translating) “Whoa, did you see that?  She pricked her finger and then licked the blood!”  I put my meter away and waited for the introduction.  Then, instead of my polite and gentle script, I veered off a little.  I mentioned that obviously, I didn’t have a clue how hard they’re jobs were.  I wasn’t aware of the challenges they faced day in and day out.  All I knew was some of them had been losing jobs, losing companies, losing money, and an unfortunate few had lost their lives.  So I asked they listen to what we had to say to them, bear with our Spanish, and just know that in the end, we weren’t giving them the information for our benefit, it was all about them.  A couple men got kind of wide eyed and nodded, respectfully.  The presentation went well. 

Luckily, a lot of men had questions-a great sign they were paying attention.  Some expressed gratitude for us presenting them with the information in Spanish.  One man said, “I was nervous today!  I felt like my business wasn’t going to last because I couldn’t understand the legal stuff and I’ve been feeling so left out.” 

I thought about how a big part of my nervousness that day had to do with dealing with my diabetes and how it made me feel different in a public, exposed way and how It was going to possibly cause my work not to go well.  I realized the people I was presenting to were feeling much the same way.  I wish I had known that before biting all my nails the night before.

Either way I now know confidence, true or faked, is very useful.  Sometimes, one of the biggest barriers between us and our health is how we fear we may be publicly perceived.  It’s happened to me quite a lot, especially when I was a teenager. 

To the non-diabetic bystander, testing blood sugar in front of a crowd doesn’t seem like a big deal.  Yet, you know what I’m talking about.  We’ve all been there.  Maybe during a first date, you didn’t feel comfortable whipping out your meter on the table with food or perhaps you prefer to deal with your diabetes related issues in the restroom at work so no one sees what you’re doing and think you’re not capable of your job.  The thing is, as valid as our feelings are, our health isn’t subjective.  It’s going to respond to what we do, when we do it.  So hopefully we are able to do whatever we must for our health.  It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it-we’re worth it. 

And just as I realized the day of the presentation, my fears of being the different one, the one left out, were not just my own.